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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Orin Kerr's Guide to Blogging

Rule #128:

In a moderated comment thread, there is a 50% chance that a commenter who had an uncivil comment deleted will accuse the moderator of censorship and question the moderator's commitment to free speech. (Because if the First Amendment means anything, it's the right to do what you want with someone else's private property without the property owner being able to clean up your mess.)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on February 12, 2009 in Freedom of expression | Permalink



As obnoxious as such posters might be, they would be right in calling the elimination of posts censorship. Don't believe me? Ask Webster:

Censorship: "1 a: the institution, system, or practice of censoring b: the actions or practices of censors"

Censor: "1: a person who supervises conduct and morals: as a: an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter"

Well, a blog moderator certainly is an official with regard to the blog who supervises the conduct of the posters, examines publications, and eliminates content they object to being there. So a blog moderator is pretty much by definition a censor and any elimination of posts is censorship.

The reason some refuse to accept that this is what is happening is because they (wrongly) get the idea fixed in their mind that all censorship is illegitimate. "Censorship" has a strong prejorative connotation, to be sure, but not all censorship is illegitimate. Not even all censorship when done by governement officials is illegitimate (egs; censoring information that would endanger soldiers engaged in combat; covering up obscene graffiti spray painted on the walls of a school).

The obnoxious blog poster who screams about censorship does not understand that sometimes censorship is legitimate, but the blog moderator who replies that it is not censorship does not know what the word means.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-02-12 7:29:03 AM

Free Speech works as a concept partly because fellow citizens would censor or disavow any comments that they find offensive. If these people want to say stupid racist or horrific things they are free to do so on their own forum.

Posted by: hughmacintyre | 2009-02-12 8:35:01 AM

FC, I agree completely.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-12 9:11:51 AM

This could probably apply to universities and protesters, too.

Posted by: Voice of Reason | 2009-02-12 9:37:36 AM

Kerr's rule needs an amendment. To wit:

If the thread in question was posted on a libertarian-oriented message board, the chances of someone accusing the moderator of censorship rise to 80%, despite the fact that the commenters on such a message board ought to bloody well know better.

Amendment #2:

If the very topic of the thread involves freedom of speech, the chances someone will claim the moderator fails to support freedom of speech after he/she deletes a comment rise to 95%.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-02-12 10:19:56 AM

"This could probably apply to universities and protesters, too."

Probably true.

However, at a private university, the private property argument which applies to the blog also holds, but at a public university, the same is not true. If a private Christian college does not want Satanist students to hand out promotional literature on campus, they have the right to prohibit that activity. At a public university, which is supported by money taken from all taxpayers, there ought not be any policies which discriminate against Satanists qua Satanists.

Nevertheless, to the extent that protesters are disruptive to the basic functioning of the university, in either case (public or private), shutting them up seems a reasonable and justifiable response.

Posted by: Kalim Kassam | 2009-02-12 10:55:18 AM

Orin Kerr understands the relationship between free speech and private property. Most don't.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-02-12 11:31:10 AM

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